Over the past few weeks, our lives have changed drastically and our normal everyday routines disrupted. COVID-19 has had a huge effect on our way of life, and it is even more challenging for some of the more vulnerable people in our society, including refugees and asylum seekers living in direct provision.
What is Direct Provision
Direct provision is the Irish system for asylum seekers in Ireland. There are over 6,000 refugees and asylum seekers living in direct provision in Ireland, almost 30% of those are children. When a person seeks asylum in Ireland, direct provision is where they live while awaiting a decision on their status. The average wait time is two years, but it is not uncommon for people to wait eight, nine or ten years in direct provision. There are about 40 centres in Ireland, not counting the emergency reception centres. Seven of the centres are state owned, but the majority of the centres are run on a for-profit basis with. The centres are usually old hostels, hotels or B&Bs and often located in rural and isolated areas where families live together in one room, eat meals three times a day at strictly set times, have communal bathroom facilities and are usually overcrowded. People receive €38.80 a week, with extremely limited access to the right to work scheme.
Social distancing in direct provision
The majority of us are able to practice social distancing and self isolate, but this is much more difficult for people living in direct provision. Put yourself in the shoes of someone living in direct provision during the COVID-19 pandemic, and think of how little control you have over protecting yourself and your family. Friends of mine who are living in direct provision feel ignored and helpless, powerless to protect themselves and their families.
On €38.80 it’s just not feasible to buy supplies to protect themselves from the virus, as well as everyday necessities. The conditions in direct provision centres are the perfect environment for the spread of a virus like COVID-19. This can have a devastating impact on people’s health, as well as their mental wellbeing. Imagine the anxiety you would feel if you were in the same situation, not being able to socially distance yourself from others around you. People are having to share eating areas and living quarters with people who have possibly tested positive for COVID-19. For families, it’s a challenging time as their children are at home all day, but in cramped conditions like direct provision, entertaining them is difficult.
People in direct provision need extra support during this time and I think it’s an opportunity to change the direct provision system for the better. I personally think €38.80 a week is not enough to live off, especially during a pandemic. The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is serious and really needs to be addressed. It’s also a chance to address the wait times in direct provision. The wait time has to change as we cannot leave people in limbo for so long.
Cork refugee, asylum seeker & migrant community
When I first moved to Cork I really missed my small community back home. As I got more involved with the Cork refugee, asylum seeker and migrant community I was met with only warmth and compassion and it made me feel so welcome in a new place. The people I’ve met are some of the strongest and most resilient people I know and we can learn so much from them. Even now, in such a tumultuous time, women living in direct provision are sewing masks for all the Cork centres and other vulnerable groups with the Sanctuary Mask Initiative. This compassion and solidarity is what we need in a time like this.
We need to make a positive change
For years we’ve been protesting about the inhuman conditions that refugees and asylums seekers are being placed in. It’s really disappointing that the threat of overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions have been overlooked in the COVID-19 mitigation strategies. From the very beginning it was clear to me that direct provision centres are a hotspot for COVID-19. How long is it going to take until direct provision and its inhumane conditions are addressed? How bad does it have to get for the issues to be taken seriously? At this rate, by the time we see actual serious change it will be too late and people will be shaking their heads wondering how we could have let this happen. In unprecedented times like this we can’t afford to help some and leave the rest. We need to show each other empathy. We must work together as a community and we have to ensure nobody is left behind.